Seven Secrets of Spousal Negotiations

By Mark Jankowski

This month we are taking a little bit of a different approach to negotiations and applying some of those lessons to our home-life and relationships with those we are closest to. While not directly applicable to work, there is no doubt that happiness at home can make our work life even that much better. So, the following are seven secrets that can be applied toward any relationship.

1. Don’t Think “Me” –  Think “We”. If both spouses refocus their thinking as to what is best for “we” rather than what is best for “me,” many marital disputes could be handled more easily. For example, problems could arise discussing a family vacation if one spouse wants to go on a fishing vacation and the other wants to visit relatives in the city. Each spouse could try to overpower the other with reasons why their idea is the best. Even if one side overpowers the other and “wins” the argument, both sides might ultimately lose if the other spouse remains disgruntled throughout the entire vacation. A more effective approach is seeking the “win” for “we” by accommodating the interests of both people.  Perhaps spending half of the vacation at each location, or having the relatives join in on the fishing trip. Whatever the resolution, we feel it will be a better one if you remember: “The best way to get what you want is to help your spouse get what he or she wants.”

2. Under Every Wet Towel Left on the Bathroom Floor is a Real Issue Trying to get Out. Many times spousal disputes erupt over little things like taking out the garbage, coming home late for dinner, or not watching the kids. Often these disputes are merely manifestations of larger issues such as a feeling of neglect or a feeling that the other person is controlling their lives. When battles erupt over seemingly minor issues, it helps for each person to take a step back and determine the possible larger issue residing beneath the surface conflict.

3. Be Prepared for the Good Times and Bad, for the Better and the Worse. Even the most stable relationships contain conflict. Knowing that conflict is inevitable, spouses should more effectively prepare to handle these difficult situations. We recommend establishing ground rules such as “Never going to bed angry” or “Never attacking the other person in public.” Setting these ground rules, however, is only the start. As with many rules, these ground rules will likely be broken. The important thing is to have each spouse agree to discuss the situation as soon as a ground rule is broken. By discussing such a violation immediately, these ground rules may help to prevent the inevitable conflict from escalating.

4. Always Listen Up. Never Talk Down. In general, our society has lost the art of effective listening. Too often when our spouse is speaking, instead of listening, we are preparing for what we are going to say next. Many problems can be resolved by each spouse listening to and truly understanding the other spouse’s concerns. We suggest that creating the right environment can help you in your listening. When discussing spousal concerns, turn off the T.V., put the kids to bed, stop doing the house chores, and sit down and focus completely on listening to each other. Do not make alcohol part of the discussion. A couple of glasses of wine or a few beers serve only to confuse the discussion and thwart effective communication.

5. Ask Him to Walk a Mile in Your High Heels… Ask Her to Try it in Your Wing Tips. One way to attempt to resolve problems is to ask the other person what they would do if they were in your shoes. By trying to implement unilaterally our own solutions, we often miss the mark and create larger problems. If your spouse complains that you are neglectful because you come home so late, you might think you can solve the problem by coming home an hour earlier every night. Of course, your stress to meet this goal might make you much less compatible when you arrive home. If you involved your spouse in the process, you might have discovered another solution where each day you determine the hour of your arrival and call home to set that time.  By involving your spouse in the decision making process, you may prevent your own unilateral action from compounding the problem.

6. When Angry, Kiss. Thomas Jefferson once said, “When I am angry, I count to ten.  When I am very angry, I count to 100.” Jefferson could have added marriage counselor to his impressive list of accomplishments. One method of “counting to ten” might be to take a walk together. Once the scenery has changed, the conversation may continue without the immediacy of emotion. A good rule is: “Don’t get personal, and don’t take it personally.”

7. Short Term “Victories” can Lead to Long Term Pain. Often when we are “right” and we feel that we have “won,” we seek to make sure our spouse never forgets our “victory.” If you take this approach, you may be simply setting the stage for the next battle. Instead, even when you feel that your “victory” is completely justified, look for ways to acknowledge the concerns expressed by your spouse. If one spouse feels they have been treated unfairly, he or she may sabotage their spouse in other ways. If both people end the discussion feeling as if they gained understanding from the other side, the same issue will be less likely to cause future problems.


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